German Temporal Prepositions

Overview

German temporal prepositions are related to time and answer questions like "When?" and "For how long?" Some require the accusative case, some the dative case, and some the genitive case.

Time is fleeting

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German Temporal Prepositions

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The temporal preposition ‘für’ is used when indicating duration (e.g. for a week).

‘Vor’ is used to indicate an event or activity that started and ended at some point in the past (English equivalent of adding “ago” to a time expression; e.g. four weeks ago / vor vier Wochen).

The temporal preposition ‘seit’ is used to indicate something that began in the past and continues into the present, as can be seen in this translation of the third example under “Seit wann?” above:

Ich fahre seit einem Jahr Auto. / I have been driving since last year.

Literally translated, “seit“ in German means since, but it is used other ways, too. In English, “since” is used to mark the beginning of a period of time (I have been here since 2015), whereas in German, “seit” can also be used similar to the way English speakers use “for,” and “vor” is used similar to the way English speakers use “ago.”

Vor 5 Jahren = 5 years ago

Seit 5 Jahren = For 5 years

Seit 2015 = Since 2015

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ab – refers to a starting point in time (e.g. ab 10.00 Uhr / starting at 10:00)

bei – used when discussing an activity that one is doing (e.g. bei der Arbeit / while working/during work)

bis – ‘until’ (e.g. Ich muss bis 17.00 Uhr arbeiten. / I have to work until 5:00 pm.)

in – used in conjunction with a future time (e.g. in einer Stunde / in an hour)

nach – ‘after’ (e.g. nach der Pause / after the break)

seit – ‘for’; used when expressing something that happened in the past but continues on into the present (e.g. seit einer Woche / for a week; Ich lebe seit einem Jahr in Bonn. / I have been living for a year in Bonn.)

vor – ‘before’ or ‘ago’ (e.g. vor den Ferien / before the vacation/holidays; vor zwei Tagen / two days ago)

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These temporal prepositions take the dative case, except ‘ab’ and ‘bis’ (the latter refer to particular times), which take the accusative (e.g. bis nächste Woche; ab den zehnten Juni). Further, the following questions are associated with these prepositions:

Ab wann?  →  ab  → ab Samstag

Bis wann?  →  bis  → bis 15 Uhr

Seit wann?  →  seit  →  seit zwanzig Jahren

Wann?  →  in  →  in einem Monat

Wie lange?*  →  bis  →  bis nächsten Dienstag

*’Wie lange?’ can also be answered without using a preposition (e.g. Wie lange dauert es? Zwei Stunden.).

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The CEFR is an international standard used to describe language ability. Here are specific details of the CEFR for this topic.

General Explanation:
Can understand and use familiar everyday expressions and very basic phrases aimed at the satisfaction of needs of a concrete type. Can introduce him/herself and others and can ask and answer questions about personal details such as where he/she lives, people he/she knows and things he/she has. Can interact in a simple way provided the other person talks slowly and clearly and is prepared to help.
Specific Capabilities at this Level
Writing:
I can write a short, simple postcard, for example sending holiday greetings. I can fill in forms with personal details, for example entering my name, nationality and address on a hotel registration form.
Spoken Production:
I can use simple phrases and sentences to describe where I live and people I know.
Spoken Interaction:
I can interact in a simple way provided the other person is prepared to repeat or rephrase things at a slower rate of speech and help me formulate what I’m trying to say. I can ask and answer simple questions in areas of immediate need or on very familiar topics.
Reading:
I can understand familiar names, words and very simple sentences, for example on notices and posters or in catalogues.
Listening:
I can recognize familiar words and very basic phrases concerning myself, my family and immediate concrete surroundings when people speak slowly and clearly.